World Water Day: Saving the planet from water-polluting industrial farming

Posted: 22 March 2023 | | No comments yet

Expressing concern on World Water Day, experts call for an end to water-polluting industrial farming and a shift to global practices that are climate-friendly.


World Water Day is taking place on Wednesday 22 March, but instead of highlighting planet-friendly progress when it comes to water usage, numerous experts have warned “we must stop industrial farming’s assault on fresh water supplies before it’s too late”.

Both Compassion in World Farming (organisers of the Extinction or Regeneration conference), and experts have flagged their concern at an international event by calling for an end to water-polluting industrial farming. They have also highlighted a need for a shift to global practices that are “climate and nature-friendly” to protect fresh water supplies.

Claiming that a “clear change is needed to the world’s water use if we are to avoid running out”, experts explained how extreme weather events and growing populations are continuously putting additional pressure on fresh water resources.

“Drought is getting more severe and more frequent across the continent of Africa. There is water mismanagement and overemphasis on underground water extraction through bore holes, as opposed to integrated watershed management,” explained Dr Susan Chomba, Director Vital Landscapes, World Resources Institute.

“Pesticides and fertilisers are polluting the water to the extent that it is harmful for human consumption. What’s needed is an acceleration of policies to transform farming systems, treat wastewater, along with better information for people about the dangers of ‘cookie-cutter’ practices of industrial farming.”

Turning clean water dirty

To justify their stance, experts note various water-usage methods that were harmful to the planet. In particular they noted how, in the UK and Europe, animal excrement from factory farms washes into streams and rivers where it kills marine life.

Turning their attention to Africa, experts claimed that tonnes of valuable topsoil saturated with fertilisers erodes into river systems and hydroelectricity plants. Meanwhile, in North America nitrogen from ‘mega-farms’ runs into rivers and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, creating ‘dead zones’ where “nothing can live”, according to the researchers.

“Water quality, soil health and nutrition are all linked, we have to address these issues together,” said Dr Rattan Lal, Director, Rattan Lal Center for Carbon Management and Sequestration, School of Environment and Natural Resources, Ohio State University.

Explaining that the science and knowledge to solve the aforementioned problems currently exists, Lal stated that, by using it effectively, “we can stop poisoning our soils and water and return them to nature while maintaining global food security”.

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“We can lessen extreme flooding and better manage irrigation of crops. We can encourage more carbon sequestration through water (and soil) but we need the policy to catch up with the science.”

Fresh water in short supply

According to the United States Geological Survey, 71 percent of the planet is covered in water however only 3 percent of the water is fresh. In fact, the United States Bureau of Reclamation claims that though 0.5 percent of this water is available for consumption, 2.5 percent is unavailable and locked in glaciers, polar ice caps, atmosphere and soil.

“[Fresh] water is vital to human health and wellbeing, biodiversity, energy and food production, healthy ecosystems, and more. Yet, agriculture uses an astonishing [amount] of all fresh water worldwide, and around a third of the water in agriculture is linked to meat and dairy production,” experts explained.

While water is needed for animal product production, research has found that, generally, factory farmed meat and milk uses and pollutes more surface and groundwater than meat and milk from grazing or mixed systems. In addition, the water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of crop products with equivalent nutritional value, according to research.

Seeking a solution

Hoping that widespread discussion will act as a catalyst for change, Philip Lymbery, Global CEO of Compassion in World Farming said: “For too long, food production has ignored the fact that, without care, finite resources like water will eventually run out.

“We need solutions, and fast. But there is hope – by bringing together some of the world’s best thinkers and experts we can explore the solutions and help create a roadmap towards a global food system that works for human, animal and planetary health.”

Though not an easy task, ensuring that the world’s limit supply of fresh water remains clean and unpolluted is undoubtedly essential. However, with industrial farming practises occurring all of the planet to supply for a global population that reached eight billion in November 2022, changes, while necessary, may cause short term upheaval in order to generate long term rewards.

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